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Calorie Intake: Men vs. Women continued...

As the number of men in the group increased, the calorie count in the women's meals decreased, she found.

"Women in groups of women tended to increase the caloric value of the food they choose," she says, compared to eating alone or with men. "The bigger the group of women, the more they eat," she says. For instance, women who ate in a group of three each ate about 650 calories, while those who ate in a group of four averaged about 800 each.

But the sex of dining companions or group size didn't influence caloric intake for men, she found. "Men didn't seem to be affected by anything," Young tells WebMD.

Exactly why dining companions of the opposite sex influence how much women eat isn't known, Young says, although she can speculate.

"The hypothesis we'd like to keep right now is, the social signaling thing," she says. In other words, women want to look more attractive, especially if a potential date or mate is sitting at the table. Other research, Young says, has found that women who eat less are viewed as more attractive and that thin women are seen as more attractive.

Eating to Impress

The new study findings echo previous research done by Sarah-Jeanne Salvy, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the State University of New York at Buffalo, who reviewed the Young study for WebMD and for the journal.

People often manipulate the amount of food they eat "to convey a positive impression," she says. For instance, she says, when you want to relate to someone, whether they are same sex or opposite, "eating like someone else would be ingratiating yourself."

Women who suppress their eating in front of a man may be trying to look more feminine and in control, she agrees.

In her own research, published this month in TheAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Salvy has found that overweight children who eat in the company of their overweight friends may eat more than those who eat with someone they don't know.

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